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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                   165
moment of despair after his operation, when he felt the
need of expressing his grief to somebody, he wrote her a
long and gloomy letter. Shortly afterwards, he received
an answer written on a page torn from an exercise book,
in a twiddly hand, the sentences liberally interspersed
with exclamation marks that looked like caraway-seeds
sprinkled on a bun, and the whole ornamented with tear
blots. The girl wrote that if it were not for military dis-
cipline, she would throw up everything at once and go
to him to nurse him and share his sorrow. She implored
him to write more often. There was so much naive, half-
childish sentiment in this confused letter that it made
Alexei sad, and he cursed himself for having told the
girl when she handed him Olya's letters that Olya was
his married sister. A girl like that ought never to be de-
ceived. And so he frankly wrote and told her that he
had a sweetheart in Kamyshin, and that he had not
dared to tell her, or his own mother, the truth about his
The answer from the "meteorological sergeant" came
with what was, in those days, an incredible speed. The
girl wrote that she was sending the letter with a major,
a war correspondent who had visited their wing. He had
courted her, but, of course, she had ignored him, although
he was a nice, jolly fellow. From the tone of the letter
it was evident that she was disappointed and offended,
had tried to restrain her feelings but without avail. Chid-
ing him for not having told her the truth that time, she
asked him to regard her as his friend. This letter ended
with a postscript written not in ink, but in pencil, as-
suring the "Comrade Senior Lieutenant" that she was his
devoted friend and telling him that if "that one in Ka-
myshin" were unfaithful to him (she knew how the wo-
men in the rear were behaving), or if she ceased to love
him, or was repelled by his being disabled, then let him
not forget the "meteorological sergeant", only he must
always write her nothing but the truth. The person who
brought the letter also brought a neatly-packed parcel
containing several embroidered handkerchiefs made from
parachute silk and bearing Alexei's initials, a tobacco-
pouch with a plane depicted on it, a comb, a bottle of
"Magnolia" eau-de-Cologne, and a piece of toilet soap.